Lynne Curry: Worker wants a smooch, but employer has eye in the sky

Lynne Curry

Q. This morning I leaned over to give a co-worker a friendly good morning kiss on the cheek. I know she likes me but she backed away saying, "The boss won't like that." When I answered, "He won't know," she pointed to shiny object in a ceiling corner and said, "There's the camera."

Apparently, the boss spies on what goes on in our restaurant kitchen. I've worked here two weeks and wasn't told we were under constant surveillance. Isn't this illegal?

A. According to an American Management Association survey, 51 percent of employers use video surveillance to counter theft, violence or sabotage, and 16 percent of surveyed employers use video surveillance to monitor employee performance. While most employers tell their employees about their video surveillance, the survey documents that one in five employers keep camera use secret.

While many employees protest this privacy invasion and generally find video surveillance creepy, employers counter that employee theft and employer responsibilities related to violence and illegal harassment require them to monitor workplace activity and also note the workplace isn't "private" but a semi-public arena.

When employees sue, courts analyze privacy invasion/surveillance cases by conducting a fact-specific balancing of the employee's reasonable privacy expectation against the employer's need to monitor potential theft or workplace issues.

A recent study involving 392 restaurants in four restaurant chains documented a 22 percent drop in theft and an increase in worker productivity resulting from video surveillance, potentially because employees needed to work harder to increase their tip income.

For employers, these results may make surveillance worth it, particularly in high theft industries such as restaurants. Interestingly, the research differentiates between two groups of employees, "known thieves" who have a history of dishonesty and "unknown" persons who haven't yet been caught stealing.

When placed under surveillance, "unknown" thieves reported high levels of workplace stress, depression, anxiety, fatigue, job boredom and anger. In other words, those who haven't or wouldn't steal react negatively to being watched.

Because employers monitor employee activity, you need to know the following:

Employers can record telephone numbers dialed from your phone extension with a pen register that lets them see both the phone numbers and the call length.

Many companies have written policies advising employees they may monitor employee emails, even personal emails sent on company-issued computers or cell phones to an employee's personal email address. Although the Electronic Communications Privacy Act offers employees some protection, it allows employers to place consent forms into policy handbooks, employment applications and contracts, thus circumventing an employee's privacy rights. Employees who forward inappropriate messages or send confidential information to their home or a competitor may thus be busted.

Some employers install key-logging programs that record every computer keystroke by employees, allowing employers to see what an employee types, including passwords. Both the Stored Information Act and the Federal Wiretap Act offer limited protection; however, employers generally win these cases given that they own the computers and pay employees for their work time.

Finally, your quick peck on the cheek -- are you sure she didn't back away because she didn't want your kiss?

Q. I have body art I'm proud of, but it may be making it hard for me to get a job.

I haven't wanted to cover it up when interviewing, thinking that I wouldn't want to work for anyone so narrow-minded that body art would weigh against me, but I'm running out of money.

Should I cover up during my next interview?

How do I handle it when I show up for work if I haven't bared all during the interview?

A. You already know the first answer or you wouldn't have written. If you're interviewing for a job you really want or need, cover up. You want the interviewer to see you and your talents undistracted by body art. If that doesn't work for you, keep looking for an interviewer open to tattoos.

Once hired, prove yourself. After you've convinced your new employer you're a great employee, roll up your sleeves. If your body art then bothers your employer, you can roll down your sleeves down or look for greener pastures.


Dr. Lynne Curry is a management/employee trainer and owner of the consulting firm The Growth Company Inc. Send your questions to her at Follow Lynne on Twitter @lynnecurry10 or at


Lynne Curry